Does this Adagio sound professional?

Edited: September 28, 2019, 8:12 PM · I practiced and subsequently recorded the Bach Adagio in G Minor today with the intention of seeing if I could get a "professional" sound.

I then tried to upload the file to Soundcloud and in a hilarious bout of irony, they kept deleting the file because their algorithm thought it was just a copy of a copyrighted recording of the same piece by Anna Gockel.

Anyways, I ended up just uploading to Youtube instead.

Let me know if it sounds professional, and if not, why not? I'm aware there are a couple of mistakes in there, and unfortunately the thing about recordings is mistakes stick out significantly more because you hear the same ones every time you listen back. But whatever. Professionals also have this setback, so it's apples to apples (of course this was only my 2nd take, so if I really wanted to clean it up I'd do more!). I also didn't do cut-and-paste.

Now that the excuses are out of the way:

Replies (44)

Edited: September 28, 2019, 8:30 PM · This does not sound like a professional recording. It sounds like you're recording in a small room, with a hard wall behind you. Did you add reverb? It sounds a bit funny. I think because your microphone is a bit too far away as well.

What kind of microphone are you using, and in what configuration?

If you really want that clean, pro sound, consider investing in a matched pair of cardioid mics (can get some pretty decent pairs of mics for a home studio for 100 - 150 dollars) and a USB interface . Then just put blankets all over the floor so you don't get any undesirable reflections, and add reverb in post.

As for interpretation, I think you could spend a little more time with the notes.

September 28, 2019, 8:46 PM · I don't think that the sound is problematic for YouTube. It's not equivalent to engineered CD quality, but it doesn't need to be as a sample.

There's a particular distinctive quality to your playing that I don't know if you're aware of, which is that you tend to start a note, and then crescendo -- it's an effect of starting the bow slowly and then increasing bow speed, and adding vibrato after the start of the note, so you often get a probably-unintended surge effect.

Still, listenable and if you're just recording a sample for a website or the like, should be fine.

September 28, 2019, 8:53 PM · Sounded great to me. The playing was better than the production.
Edited: September 28, 2019, 9:40 PM ·
The 'notes' sound pretty good to me also.

This must be ready for a live performance now..?

September 28, 2019, 10:25 PM · Unfortunately, my new setup isn't great for recording (for reasons I'm too lazy to explain). I can't easily fix it because of aesthetic reasons in my studio.

I suppose I meant more along the lines of "is the playing of a professional quality"?

September 28, 2019, 10:48 PM · Lydia, most dynamics in the recording were actually intentional, rather than an unconscious habit. I originally learned the Adagio with more of a "solid wall" of sound, more similar to how I play the chaconne, but found it pretty derivative and boring. Like, I'm not a huge fan of Hilary Hahn's recording, for example, but I'm sure most people would say it is correct.
September 28, 2019, 11:55 PM · It's certainly the best playing I have ever heard from you. I would say yes, it sounds professional, but of a certain kind. I've heard "pros" of the local freeway philharmonic variety who did not sound nearly this good. But it would probably not get you an orchestra job. Aside from the occasional intonation issues which you are aware of, there is a certain sameness to your sound. It comes across as extremely well-rehearsed but lacking the sort of artistry or inventiveness that one expects in a high-level musician.

You've obviously been working extremely hard and I think you have every right to feel proud of this. And I will say it again, I really, really wish you would take regular (weekly) lessons with a top-level teacher, in or out of a conservatory-type setting. It would make all the difference. You have natural gifts and a good work ethic. I believe you are a caring and effective teacher for beginner to intermediate students. I think you could do a lot more if you had the right kind of feedback on a regular basis.

September 29, 2019, 12:41 AM · Sounds beautiful to me. If you can’t get an orchestra job with this playing then that is depressing.
September 29, 2019, 1:29 AM · Thanks for the comments so far.

Mary, I'm glad that my sound gives the impression that I have been working hard. To be honest, since I moved to my new house, I have been practicing more than I used to, but I still probably only average a couple of hours a week. On this particular piece, I haven't really looked at it (until today for about an hour) since I last posted it. I occasionally play it by ear as a warm up, but haven't actually looked at the music since then. The improvements are a result of dabbling in tid bits of all music, and just screwing around in general. Teaching probably unconsciously shows me things as well. I wish my work ethic was better, but when I start working hard on the violin I get this deep, unshakable feeling that it's not really my true purpose to do that. But occasionally I get these days where I'm just like "I have to record something today." And for some reason, this Adagio (and the fugue after it) is sort of my benchmark for gauging my improvement.

Regarding the sameness of my sound, I have to blame the recording at least partially for that. I'm sure part of it is me playing "safely" in order to minimize mistakes, whereas I wouldn't do that so much in a live setting. But the other part -- and I feel this has a far bigger effect -- is that no matter how I record, there is so much color, tone, and dynamics that gets stolen from what I actually did. It's really frustrating, but I'm confident it's just an artifact of recording, because I can't find a single recording even of great violinists that really blows me away. And yet I know these players sound epic in real life. But maybe I just haven't found the right recording or looked hard enough. But in this case, I may just be the "blind leading the blind", so to speak.

Can you refer me to a Youtube recording of this piece that meets your standards and could serve as a benchmark?


To Chris (and others reading): when Mary speaks of this not being good enough to join an orchestra, I think she means an orchestra that pays at least a semi-living wage. There are many orchestras that pay very little, or perhaps only pay their principle players, but I don't think she is referring to those. Also keep in mind that I'm doing a good job on this piece, but it's fairly easy piece in the grand scheme of things. If I was playing a harder piece but achieving similar quality, it would be much more impressive.

"Real" orchestras are so competitive that only the best of the best players out there can get in (and keep in mind that players are competing against not just local talent, but others that are willing to move across the country for a seat). In a sense, any new opening in a legitimate orchestra is like a national competition. And every player in an orchestra could probably freelance as a soloist (and some do!).

I guess my point is that you shouldn't be discouraged by knowing that I couldn't get into an orchestra. There are much better players out there. I mean, does anyone remember frickin' Irene Chen's 3-hour Paganini 16? That was insane, but apparently is just normal for a "professional" orchestra level player.

I used to think "professional" just meant somebody that could play at weddings or make a living performing, period. But the actual colloquial meaning on forums like this for "professional" means a much higher level player than the average person would expect.

September 29, 2019, 2:06 AM · It sounds beautiful to me. This is just personal opinion since I have no skills to provide an objective feedback :)
Edited: September 29, 2019, 3:28 AM · It's nice playing for an amateur. However, it does not sound "professional" to me.

On the "sameness" of sound, I don't think it is about the recording equipment.

I won't go into more detail, but I agree with Mary Ellen that working with a high-level teacher would help.

September 29, 2019, 6:15 AM · I agree with mr. Deck, and really don't care how it "sounds": i like your playing really a lot.
It does not sound as a professional recording to me, but i don't care ! :)
Edited: September 29, 2019, 6:21 AM · Erik to me yes this sounds like professional level. Not all professionals are international top soloists, it is not international top soloist level, but to me it sounds definitely professional enough. I think your sound quality including the vibrato, are definitely there. I did hear six or seven places with less than stellar intonation, one point where you audibly ran out of bow, and one smeary shift. But that's it and I think Bach himself would have found your performance quite OK!
Edited: September 29, 2019, 6:26 AM · For me this is a really interesting discussion. Thank you Erik for your post. I think asking this question is very brave. I'm intrigued by the comments here and your thoughts about 'what is a professional' Not the semantics but when you do sound like a pro and why.
Mary Ellen Goree makes that very clear.
@ Frieda Francis. can you please explain why you say it doesn't sound like a professional? I miss the arguments for this opinion and that is I think the more interesting question.

For me: apart from some flaws that are due to a 'live performance' it sounds as good as a lot of violinists that did do a conservatory study that I play with or know in my area (Europe) But also it doesn't sound like the real soloists. But there is still a lot in between!
For me the difference with the great soloists has to do with sound and colour and with the phrasing. I'm nog good enough myself to point out what exactly the difference is. I think some kind of freedom and convincing in the interpretation?

Edited: September 29, 2019, 10:53 AM · Eric, I think this would be fine as part of a public recital.

Your own comments are interesting, though to a British reader the expression "scr*wing around" sounds very libidinous and should not be used in front of the children! But yes one can indeed improve by "trying stuff", and also by sorting out students' difficulties.

You find the recording doesn't convey all you put into the performance.
This is a bit like the actor who has to whisper "I love you" in such a way that the butler doesn't hear, but the entire audience still does. It's the old difference between the sounds just under the ear and those heard from afar: very fine shading are lost. Creating the illusion of a pianissimo... Try Etymotic earplugs; or even building-site "headphones"?

Inspiring recordings? Enescu (1950) or Menuhin (1976): rhapsodic grandeur. Or Mullova: HIP, but very musical ;)

September 29, 2019, 11:23 AM · I wish I could play like that!
Edited: September 29, 2019, 11:25 AM · One of the biggest problems with home recording setups is that the devices automatically adjust gain to keep the recording within the dynamic range of the amplifier. Thus, when you go quiet it amplifies you more and when you go loud vice versa. Try as you might to range in dynamics you have lost before you start! Perhaps this is a big reason why Mary noted that it sounds the 'same'.

Interestingly, some quite simple and not too expensive recorders will allow you to override dynamic compensation - I have a Zoom that does it quite well (and it has a pair of condenser microphones built in). Unfortunately, the files are incompatible with Windows 10 - a good reason to keep my old notebook alive. The Zoom also took a low-quality video whereas the newer versions only record sound. However, with modern software it is apparently not too difficult to record video and sound on separate gadgets and unite them after.

Oh, I think you play beautifully - wish I could reach your level of professionalism.

September 29, 2019, 1:35 PM · Eric, thanks for posting it.

It sounds credible and convincing, which is in a way professional. I have been on since 2016 and it is by far the most professional sounding post among folks without a conservatory training.

September 29, 2019, 4:16 PM · This sounds excellent.
I am in awe of people who are saying this does not sound professional... they must all be world class concertmaster / soloist caliber of violinists, who only ever hang out with world class soloists and really look down on the orchestra players.

What I would do differently (not to bash your performance) - I’d try to make the entire “feel” of the piece slightly calmer. It might not even be the tempo... just slightly slower vibrato and no crescendo at the end of longer notes. This miniature spike of volume at the end of each bow give this piece an unwanted “rush”. To my ears at least.

September 29, 2019, 4:22 PM · Eric williams
My benchmark in recording and violin sound in general (but maybe not expression) is Rachel Podger’s sonatas and partitas:
September 29, 2019, 5:37 PM · I meant a full-time professional orchestra, one in which the full complement of players are paid a living wage or close to one. Apologies for not being clear.

I’m not an international soloist and one does not have to be one to be able to distinguish performances. I have been a full-time professional orchestral musician for 35 years.

I agree that the recording equipment probably affected my perception of Erik’s sound but I think there is more to it than that. There are many different interpretations of Bach on YouTube that can be listened to as a benchmark. I like Nathan Milstein and Hilary Hahn, two very very different interpreters.

September 29, 2019, 6:15 PM · "they must all be world class concertmaster / soloist caliber of violinists, who only ever hang out with world class soloists and really look down on the orchestra players."

No, all the musicians in full-time professional orchestras are that good -- I'm not sure if you saw the Krakovich thread that spawned the three-hour challenge, but in that thread Irene Chen, who described herself as a fairly typical orchestra pro, played a very impressive Paganini Caprice 16 on only three hours of practice.

That said, this recording is very good. I'd expect to hear approximately this quality in a recital from a regional orchestra player, though I would assume those violinists are capable of playing noticeably better if they take the time to prepare as if for an audition.

Edited: September 29, 2019, 8:35 PM · Tony wrote, "I am in awe of people who are saying this does not sound professional... they must all be world class concertmaster..."

I definitely see the point, but after you listen to enough violin music you can tell -- by comparison -- when something is just a little "off" and in the case of Erik's recording there were a handful of thirds and such that were not perfectly in tune. At the same time, I play well enough to know just how hard that is, and to know that he was pretty close, and to know that it is highly unlikely I will ever play it like that. (I'm not sure that piece is in the cards for me at all!)

I very much like Gidon Kremer's Bach. I think he is my favorite overall. And I think his recordings are well produced. Kremer is the kind of violinist who is good to listen to for intonation, because he is *incredibly* self-consistent, which is very important for conveying a general sense of intonation globally throughout your playing. For example Kremer's double stops are absolutely sizzling with clarity and accuracy. He's so consistent that if something sounds wrong you know it's your ear and not his playing, and you can use that to recalibrate your own sense of pitch.

That is the kind of thing that sets a top professional apart from a middling professional. But Erik -- middling professional violinist is a very hard standard, so please accept the compliment! The "flatness" of your interpretation is well explained, I feel, by your comment about playing "safe" and by Elise's comment about dynamic compression in the reduction. That's another reason to use better microphones as Cotton suggested.

And another reason this recording won't get you a salaried orchestral job is because it's not a fast number and it doesn't take you all over the fingerboard (the high stuff on the G string is gratuitous in my opinion). The fast bits of your adagio (some of the ornaments) were the tiniest bit clumsy. Since Tony mentioned Podger, I personally feel her adagio suffers -- to a lesser extent -- the same issue, so you're in fine company there. Not Kremer -- his faster bits are all sparkling clear. I just listened to Perlman playing this on YouTube. That's very good too. LOL

September 29, 2019, 8:39 PM · I find it interesting that a.... "fairly typical orchestra pro' had never included the Paganini 16 in their studies...?
September 29, 2019, 8:52 PM · I'm a "fairly typical orchestra pro" who never learned Paganini 16 until it was chosen as one of TMEA's All-State etudes maybe 20 years ago and I had to teach it...I learned it in a hurry then. At conservatory I had studied other Paganini caprices but not #16.

There is a mountain of music from which one can choose plenty of repertoire to develop to a professional level without playing every single piece at every single level.

September 29, 2019, 9:42 PM · Here's an example. My teacher happens to have a YouTube recording of him performing this at the Paganini Competition, some years ago.

September 29, 2019, 11:24 PM · That's great playing. His tone/vibrato is incredible.
Edited: September 30, 2019, 2:12 AM · Ok, here was my 2nd try today: some things I changed:

1) used omni capsule on mic

2) was very close to mic (about 1 foot)

3) Didn't add any reverb to recording

4) Took a video

5) did the piece from memory, rather than from the sheet music

6) Added more freedom to the ornaments

7) Tried to break up sameness, but not sure if I succeeded. Recording still takes out a lot of the differences in tone and volume, but at least with the video you can sort of see what my bow was trying to do, even if the sound doesn't always reflect it.

8) Changed shoulder rest

9) Changed bow

10) Wearing earphones to monitor the mic instead of earplugs.

I would have liked to get more tries in because there are still mistakes and awkwardness, but I'm still curious to see if people find this generally better or worse than before. The sound is more raw and realistic, being close-mic'd and with the omni capsule (which picks up the sound of the whole room, as opposed to the cardoid capsule which tries to pick up in front of the mic only).

September 30, 2019, 3:29 AM · Sounds excellent to me. And more relaxed.
September 30, 2019, 4:03 AM · Speaking only regarding quality of recording (not at all regarding playing or interpretation):

I like the new OP's recording much better, much much better.
It has less of that counterphase quality that i heard in the 1st example. There's always present something that i suppose being the sound of that particular room, that gives some boxyness. Anyway, i like it even more.

Regarding the sound of the room: it's a thing that usually drives me crazy too, at home, when i record the violin.
I made lots of experiments, and i found out that a tiny difference in position, distances, etc, sometimes change the whole result. So sound tests are always necessary.
The recordings i like more, that i did at home, are often the ones i did in stereo, both spacing mics and in XY. It seems to get away, often, with the rooms boxyness .......

BTW: i don't particular like, as sound, the recording of Lydia Leong's teacher.

September 30, 2019, 4:49 AM · Well done! Its great - for me it varies a bit too much in tempo so that I loose the musical thread a bit. However, the playing is lovely. Big improvement!

Say - why don't we get all the professionals on V.Com to upload a recording for comparison?

September 30, 2019, 6:06 AM · Well; if you are into music and listen a lot, you can nearly always tell the difference. This case seems to be no different.


This is very good and very close(within the reach of a leap) especially considering the time and resources available to a pro compared to the op.

I like the second attempt better even though i felt like it had more mistakes. Also i discovered that if i had to chose i would probably prefer this over a soloist whose interpretation i don't like or doesn't catch my interest.

Edited: September 30, 2019, 8:10 AM · Ooh I like the second recording a lot. It has much more of that "searching" or "improvised" quality that I like in that piece. Much more sonority and the recording is better too. If you listen to top soloists what you'll hear -- that you don't yet have -- is a commanding, overarching sense of security in their playing. You'll only get there by performing more and working with a teacher/coach who knows how to polish someone who is already quite good. Whichever of the faithful contributors here has been suggesting that is totally right! You've got a real talent -- why not reach for the next level? Is it just the money? Or fear? Both of those are totally understandable but could also be overcome.

You could do with more reverb in your production, I think. But only if you take away the video because nobody will believe the reverb with you standing in your studio. I have a hunch too -- if you had posted that video as an amateur or teenager asking for advice on your playing, I bet you'd be hearing about your right-arm mechanics.

A recording engineer would probably tell you to rid of the instrument that's 6 feet away from you and probably resonating like crazy. I don't really hear it but I bet a good engineer can hear it in your raw mike signal.

Now ... about that fugue ...

September 30, 2019, 10:58 AM · I've listened to both, and the second version in particular is really very good - though still with scope for improvement. I think extra 'looseness' in the phrasing and the confidence of playing from memory really makes a difference to bringing the music to life. Great job!

If you want feedback then I think there is still some more scope to develop that sense of musicality, particularly sustaining that musical interest consistently throughout the piece. And I get the feeling that your right arm is still not 100% consistent between different parts of the bow, there are moments where I think you might be using too much pressure in the lower third of the bow and the top third.

September 30, 2019, 11:30 AM · Thank you for posting Eric, pleasure to listen!
September 30, 2019, 1:22 PM · Awesome recording!

If one defines "professional" as being paid for a performance and leaving the listeners happy, then yes, it is a professional performance.

The first recording sounded a bit rushed. I've heard this performed many times and it sounds best with an expressive, almost contemplative tempo.

This you captured very well with the second recording. I suspect playing from memory allowed you to focus on the emotion of the music rather than picking off notes from a sheet of music.

It seems you have all the techniques at your disposal to give a credible performance. No reason to nit-pick the occasional error that is easily fixed by practice.

September 30, 2019, 3:05 PM · Paul, I guarantee a recording engineer would be far more bothered by the constant, never-ending traffic noise right outside my house than the faint sympathetic vibrations of the cello and bass in the room :)

I'll work on the fugue.

September 30, 2019, 9:09 PM · The fugue is a real b*tch.
Edited: October 1, 2019, 12:11 AM · I can actually do a pretty good job if I'm only trying to get through a single page. The 1st, 2nd, or 3rd, it doesn't matter. But to get through all three pages consecutively with minimal enough mistakes to validate a recording will be tough.

Oh, and I forgot to answer your earlier question about why I don't get a high-level teacher.

It's for a bunch of reasons, but the main thing is commitment. Last lesson I took (about 3 years ago), I ended up not having the time to practice an amount that I deemed sufficient to prepare me for the next lesson, so I quit. I'm not about to be one of those students that comes to lessons unprepared. I realized that it's not like it used to be when I was a teen, when I had tons of free time and free energy. Teaching 40-45 students every week, mostly beginners, does drain me quite a bit. If I really pushed myself, I could probably get a consistent 1.5 hours each day of regular practice, but that's still not enough in my opinion. Obviously even with that amount I'd still improve by leaps and bounds over my current rate, but then I'd be paying substantial money and investing considerable anxiety and energy into something that I didn't feel I was 100% committing to.

It also didn't help that on my first lesson in 10 years (and my first violin lesson in almost 20!), I showed up and the girl directly before me was 7 years old and extremely good. She was playing the exact fugue we're discussing right now, and doing a damn good job of it; far better than I was at the time (and perhaps better than I am now, even). So my expectations for myself became even higher because I knew this 7 year old was going to hear me every week that I came. They had this tendency to "linger" after their lesson was done.

October 1, 2019, 12:08 AM · Marco, that recording is in a concert hall, and I don't know for certain, but I think done on a casual recording device from a distance.

Erik, #2 is definitely a big improvement.

October 1, 2019, 2:02 AM · @Erik: 7 years old and already play the G minor Fugue? That is crazy to think about, wow...
Edited: October 1, 2019, 4:37 AM · 7 years old, Fugue and extreme performance...

Whenever i come across something like this, i just can't get impressed. Instead i feel sad and sorry. It just doesn't feel right.

No amount of talent or genius could achieve such thing without sacrificing from the quality of life. Which would be an understatement in itself. Nothing could convince me otherwise.

October 1, 2019, 10:46 AM · Erik - I take lessons every 2-3 weeks, and practice a minimum of 60 minutes a day (more often than not these days it is 90+ minutes). I find it is sufficient enough to slowly get through what I need to in order for lessons to feel "worth it". Now, weekly lessons with my teacher? I would feel that I'd need at least 2hrs of practice a day and I cannot manage that at this time (financially, or with my work-life schedule). Maybe one day in the future I'll be able to, but not now.

For what it is worth, I'm making good progress and my teacher is satisfied with my pacing. The fact that they are willing to squeeze me into their very busy schedule keeps me working as hard as I can, without too much preparation-for-lesson anxiety on my end. I do wish I could practice more though. I say all this to try to convince you to take even once a month lessons to get the additional insight, and who knows, you may get information from your lessons that you can use with your students. I wonder if you could claim the cost of your lessons as a tax deduction, if they inform the work you are doing with your students now - sort of a "continuing education" fee...

October 1, 2019, 2:32 PM · Ali K: this 7 year old was/is actually quite happy. She walks/talks confidently and is super well-spoken for her age. My guess is that she doesn't have to be convinced to practice.

I agree that with most 7 year olds playing high-level music, it probably required pressure to get them to that point. But there's some amazing kids out there who just have all the traits necessary without being pressured.

Recently I saw that she had played as the featured soloist with a local freeway philharmonic. Very impressive.

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